Home Introduction History SOAF 55FST RAF FSTs Accommodation Clinical
Timeline Comment Photographs Documents Sources Links Site Index Update Log
The motivation and stimulus to establish this website was twofold.
Firstly my eldest daughter, Katie, had been pestering me for years to organise the various photographs and other documents that I retained from my time in 55FST. Clearly the material was not suitable for assembly into any sort of ring-binder but would lend itself to a website or DVD.
The range and scope of the website has grown incrementally as some of the other units that were in Dhofar at the time have added their contributions. Documentary material that was not available at the time has now been made available at the PRO in Kew and repeated visits there have proved fruitful. Much guidance has come from references in the back of books where authors have done their research. Thankyou!
It also transpired that much of the documentation about the FSTs, if not all of it,  had gone astray in the middle to late 90's, when the RAMC HQ Mess in Millbank was closed and the move was made from London to Mytchett. A great deal of material had been shredded and was beyond reach. It seemed important to seek out any documents relevant to 55FST and make them available on the internet. Once the website was established and people began to log on with a steady trickle of reminiscences and all manner of documents have been accumulated. They tend to appear once every two or three months but all are valuable addition to the record.
The contribution made by medical services is rarely acknowledged. Detailed descriptions of battles are commonplace but the "butcher's bill" rarely had a mention other than in simple figures of so many killed or wounded. Thatis until the recent conflict in Afghanistan. Footage of the hospital at Camp Bastion has now been seen on the television, details of wounded soldiers being rehabilitated at facilities such as Headley Court are commonplace and of course coffins being carried through Wootton Bassett were, tragically, almost a daily occurrence. The records of 55FST gave the opportunity  to record what went on just behind the front line nearly forty five years ago.
Secondly, in the autumn or late summer of 2004 I saw a television programme about a Field Hospital in Iraq. One clip hit a  slightly raw nerve. A surgeon was standing in front of a high tech anaesthetic machine which was festooned with variety of anaesthetic gas bottles and he was suggesting that the patient that he had just seen should now be dealt with by the unit neurosurgeon.
The circumstances were so different from my experience. A single FST comprising 13 people in Oman in the 70's cannot be compared with the recent large scale medical provision in Afghanistan. In a "light" FST close to the front line the surgeon and the anaesthetist did not have the luxury either of complex investigations, discussion with a range of colleagues or of ideal resuscitation equipment. The immediate problem had to be sorted out  instinctively and quickly before the next laden helicopter arrived and saturated the capacity of the team. The war in Dhofar and modern day campaigns developed into what is now loosely termed "asymmetric warfare" with the opportunities to create static medical services in relatively safe environments. The concept of deploying surgeons forward has changed. The provision of a trained medic to secure the airway and begin iv therapy on the way back to the sophisticated surgical facility was the first step. Combat Medical Technicians have become the norm. Best practice in Afghanistan with the Medical Emergency Response Teams brought not a surgeon but a consultant anaesthetist to the casualty in a Chinook. Forty years ago we , by force of circumstances, had to employ what is now termed DCS - Damage Control Surgery - as soon as possible. Modern best practice uses oxygen, blood, clotting factors and other measures early on to achieve their excellent results. In the absence of such facilities the faster the damage and bleeding was limited seemed the obvious route to take.
Even though I had not touched an anaesthetic machine since soon after leaving Salalah I knew that, from my own experience, the chances of an efficient supply of gases for an anaesthetic machine was probably “pie in the sky”. The supply of anything in a remote bit of desert was and may still be, at best, uncertain.
The present day provision of medical care and the degree of sophistication is of the highest order and great credit is due to those who set it up and manage the huge range of services that it offers. Unless there has been a sea change since the 70's I believe that reliance upon a long chain of supply and resupply could still be a problem. The ordering and supply of surgical and medical materials electronically should in theory be very efficient. In practice there are many opportunities for links in the chain to fail and the more complex the databases of required materials the more opportunities for failure.
[31 March 2011 - The scandal of resupply persists even today]
The Haloxaire anaesthetic machine was a simple robust bit of kit which, with the occasional use of  oxygen and a limited portfolio of drugs, did what it "said on the tin". It was easy to use and did not require an anaesthetist of any great experience to operate it. Halothane has its disadvantages however and is not a strong analgesic, tends to drop the blood pressure and depresses respiration. Following on from the Haloxaire the design and development of the TriService Anaesthetic apparatus was another step forward. It did however sometimes require the provision of a mechanical ventilator and often used a combination of two inhalational anaesthetics from two vapourisers. Some of the simplicity of the Haloxaire was lost and it perhaps required a more skilled anaesthetist than the short service medical officer. It was a very versatile setup and could be used in a variety of ways giving it distinct advantages over the Haloxaire especially in the hands of an experienced anaesthetist.
I would suggest that whilst it is important to have highly trained experienced anaesthetists there is also a need to have "short service anaesthetists" who can cope with the less complex and demanding anaesthetics. The KISS principle applies and might very well both overcome any shortages of men and materiel and provide a service where resupply of either was a problem. There is an obvious application for these simpler techniques in the violent conflicts that have arisen within nations as a result of the violence following the "Arab Spring".
The experience in Dhofar would suggest that whilst small under resourced teams, trained to use simple equipment and work around deficiencies, will certainly not replace the sophistication of a Role 2 surgical facility, they could do an immense amount of good in the circumstances that have arisen in Libya and Syria in recent times. Perhaps service medical personnel should be trained in those techniques, not in the expectation that they might use them, but in order to train others in those skills who may have need of them ?
One may reflect on whether the outcome for patients treated at the vastly more complex present day field hospitals - Role 2 facilities - with their large numbers of highly trained and specialist staff is significantly better than that at 55FST back in 1972? We only saw a tiny number of patients in Dhofar and none of the casualties had the multiple limb amputations or severe blast injuries that have occurred in Afghanistan. As time has gone by it seems to be clear that the lives of very severely wounded soldiers in Afghanistan, who would not have survived in Dhofar, are now being saved - the "unexpected survivors". Whilst the crude survival rates may not be statistically very different - no like for like comparison can be made - the increased morbidity for so many soldiers from these savage wounds in this recent conflict is significantly greater.
The recent article on "Casualty Evacuation Timelines" by Lt Col Paul Parker makes interesting comparisons.
The contribution to the war by the FST was considerable. Walter Ladwig III comments in his paper on the war : -
"Their contribution to the morale of the whole force was beyond price. The knowledge that anyone who was hurt would be flown to Salalah for expert surgery and resuscitation, usually within half an hour of being hit, must have been a factor in the bravery shown by so many people"
Following the attack on the Officers' Mess at RAF Salalah praise came from both the SAF commander and from SOAF. Rather curiously BATT acknowledged our contribution 37 years later when they made a personal presentation at their annual Regimental Association meeting in 2009.
The enigma remains however of the interest or lack of it taken by the MOD in the RAF Salalah FST. This FST was the only active service FST that the UK armed forces had operating at that time. The RAF ORB 540s for 1971 to 1975 record all the significant visitors transiting RAF Salalah. The only senior RAMC visitors were Lt Col Moffatt in February 1975 in his capacity as DDMS, and then Col Lawrence an ADMS with NEARELF in February 1975. The RAF did not fare so well; Air Cdre McIntosh PMO NEAF in July 1975.
In the slightly strange book "Operation Storm" by Cole and Belfield it is recorded that emphasis had been placed on the provision of a well resourced FST with excellent casevac arrangements. It is a slightly odd comment as one might expect excellent surgical backup as standard provision when any number of troops were deployed. Yet for some reason that comment is made in the book. The promise must have been made. The RAMC did provide limited medical staff but did  little to ensure the adequate provision of equipment or suitable medical accommodation. MOD apparently then took scant interest in the progress of the enterprise. Two visits by senior RAMC officers in five years is not exactly impressive and compares very unfavourably with other corps and regiments who had members in Dhofar.
Last modified : - 13 March 2019 09:01